This is a 20-year-old film student's perspective on the fairy and folk tales read in my Sophomore Interdisciplinary Studies class. I'm not shy and I don't hold back opinions--whether good or bad I'm always honest!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Beard vs. the Bird

I've never cared much for the Bluebeard tale type. I hate horror films and literature--I hate most horror-based art, to be frankly honest--so a fairy tale that's largely centered around a serial killer who chops his wives' bodies into pieces and hides them away to rot in a secret chamber of his house? No, thank you. Keep Bluebeard, Mr. Fox, Fitze Fitcher, and all their other incarnations to yourself. I prefer tales of clever, headstrong women outsmarting their arrogant, devious male counterparts...

...Except, wait. Isn't that what the would-be bride in "Fitcher's Bird" does with a vengeance? 

True, the heroines of "Bluebeard," "Mr. Fox," and "The Robber Bridegroom" escape their husband or fiance's dastardly plans, but in each of those tales, who really saves the day? It's always the men: in "Bluebeard" and "Mr. Fox" it's the girl's brothers, and in "The Robber Bridegroom," it's "the proper authorities" who handle the band of thieves, not the girl or her friends. But in "Fitcher's Bird," it's the bride herself who rescues her sisters and escapes on her own.

Of all the Bluebeard tale heroines, the bride of "Fitcher's Bird" is the only one who seems to possess any intellect beyond basic common sense. The ladies in "Mr. Fox" and "The Robber Bridegroom" hide from the murderers just in time to avoid detection. The finger that is chopped off the current victim's hand falls into the would-be victim's lap, and the girl happens to think of keeping the finger as evidence. In "Bluebeard," the wife manages to buy time by asking for time to say her prayers, and asks Sister Anne to make her brothers hurry up. But that's pretty much all they do, and the rest of it is luck. The finger just happens to fall into the fiancee's lap. The wife's brothers just happen to be visiting that day. Mr. Fox just happens to forget to look behind the cask where Lady Mary has hidden herself. There just happens to be a cook who's willing to help the Robber Bridegroom's fiancee escape.

Meanwhile the heroine of "Fitcher's Bird" cleverly avoids the trap set for her by hiding the egg before she explores the house. She saves her sisters by reassembling their bodies (pleasant image, that) and tricks the sorcerer into carrying her sisters home on his back by hiding them in a basket and covering them with gold. She tells him, "Don't you dare stop to rest" and whenever he tries to stop, one of her sisters calls out, "I'm looking out my little window and I can see that you're resting. Get a move on," so that the deceived sorcerer thinks she's watching him. What she's really doing, however, is setting up a dolled-up skull in the window to mimic her face, submerging herself into a barrel of honey, and rolling in the contents of a split-open feather bed so that she looks like a "strange bird that not a soul would recognize." Her own fiancee passes her on the way to her carefully-laid trap and doesn't see her. The help that she asked her sisters to send is already waiting. She is far out of harm's way, but the sorcerer isn't so lucky: he and all of his fellow miscreants are burned down with his house.

What I love most about "Fitcher's Bird' is that even though the heroine doesn't actually kill her captor, she still triumphs by escaping him. In today's society, popular media has taught us that the bad guy must always be killed, and the hero or heroine must always do it themselves, in order for the main character to achieve any kind of fulfillment. But the heroine of "Fitcher's Bird" is incredibly proactive in planning her escape and his demise. She doesn't need to kill him herself; just the fact that she has forced him to carry two of his own victims home on his back is sweet enough revenge for her.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Snow White and the...Overdose?

I'll admit it, I have a little bit of a thing for foreign music videos, because they get away with things that their American counterparts couldn't in a million years. (It's funny, when you think about it--you can sing about drug addiction, domestic violence, infidelity, suicide, and murder sprees and you get a hit song, but don't even think about explicitly portraying any of that in a music video!) Having been a longtime fan of Tokio Hotel and, more recently, this particular band (Rammstein), I'm somewhat used to the darker, grittier look of German music videos, and as a filmmaker I love that--but "Sonne" blew me away for an entirely different reason.

This is not the Snow White you grew up with: She sexually tempts and abuses the dwarfs, demands a share of the gold that they're forced to mine, and dies not of a poisoned apple, but of a drug overdose. She is provocative, almost sinister--from the moment she appears on the screen, you are well aware that this is not the Disney heroine we all know and love. We see her spank the dwarfs (a.k.a. the band members), who are lined up to eagerly receive such treatment at her hands. She is a darker, more twisted version of Snow White, and she sure as heck isn't going to appear in a Disney film anytime soon.

And make no mistake, to most people, Snow White is a Disney icon. She is beautiful, charming, innocent, pious, and kindhearted to a fault. She's borderline air-headed, letting in a stranger and eating a poisoned apple despite the warnings of those around her. Looking at her in any of the stories we've read, it's not hard to imagine her as a gracious queen, dutiful wife, or nurturing mother...except for one.

The Snow White in the video for "Sonne" is Lisa, from "The Young Slave." Sounds strange at first, until you consider this: if she had continued in the same vein without being rescued by the Baron, and if she had eventually been put in the same situation as her Disney-movie counterpart, Lisa would doubtlessly not have been quite as kind to the dwarfs. In her story she abuses a doll by threatening it with a knife, demonstrating that unlike the other "Snow Whites," the stepmother's treatment has taken its toll on Lisa. She has a rebellious streak and harsh, even cruel tendencies, unlike her more innocent counterparts in the Grimm and Disney versions of the story.

When I imagine most, if not all, of the classic fairy tale heroines--think Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, the Little Mermaid--I think that it's virtually impossible for every single one of them to be as flawlessly pure of heart as they all turn out to be. One of the most infuriating things about fairy tales is how unwavering the heroines are in their apparent perfection: they make one fatal mistake, immediately learn their lesson, and in the end get everything they want and more. If any of these women existed in real life, they would show the mark of what they've been subjected to--they wouldn't be smiling, flawless, and unfailingly innocent as the tales paint them to be.

Snow White is, at heart, an abused child. As a general rule, abused children don't trust easily; if you raise your hand in front of them they will flinch, thinking you're about to hit them. So imagine, then, an abused child running away from home, entering the first house they see, promising to do unlimited housework for the inhabitants, kindly interacting with any woodland animal to come their way, letting a gnarled old stranger into the house while the inhabitants are out, eating food from the hand of that stranger, and to cap it all off marrying the first attractive person to notice them. If it weren't a fairy tale, we'd reject this concept as completely implausible. Imagine a modern Snow White, taken into the heart of a city and left there by the hired assassin--she probably would end up in a very similar situation to the Snow White of the music video: drug-addicted and serving the sexual appetites of her benefactors.

As a general rule I prefer darker incarnations of fairy tales to the happy ending-enhanced "classic" versions that we are spoon-fed by American pop culture. (I'm sorry--I don't mean to bash Disney, I really don't.) I particularly hate Snow White; I always have--I don't know why. Something about her story, particularly her idiocy in letting in the wicked queen, just irked me. When I first read "The Young Slave," I fell in love with Lisa and her spark of rebellion, identifying with her far more than the personality-free girl in the Disney and Grimm versions.

And this, by far, is my favorite interpretation of Snow White:

This is from Jeftoon01's brilliant Twisted Princess collection on DeviantART, a series of drawings that depict the princesses in a more sinister ("twisted") light. You could argue that most of these are actually more realistic than the princesses' classic depictions (Belle, for instance, actually looks like she's just finished fighting for her beast's life). I think this is part of slowly growing out of childhood: When I was little, these pictures would have terrified me (heck, the original Disney films terrified me in most cases), but now I can look at them and not only appreciate them as art, but identify with them more strongly than the fairy tales upon which they were based.